Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Comoros Islands and Moroni

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Did Joseph Smith obtain the names Cumorah and Moroni from a map of the Comoros Islands?

Questions


Comoros is a small nation made up of three islands off the southeast coast of Africa. Its capital city is Moroni.

  • Some have claimed that Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon names Cumorah and Moroni by copying them from a map of the Comoros islands.
  • An alternative explanation offered by critics of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith found the names Cumorah and Moroni in stories about Captain Kidd, who is said to have visited the island.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


The settlement of "Moroni" did not become the capital city of the Comoros Islands until 1876 (32 years after Joseph's death and 47 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon). The possibility of Joseph seeing the names on a map is remote at best. It has not even been proved that Joseph ever saw the names, or that any source available to him linked them.

Those who propose that Joseph obtained the names "Cumorah" and "Moroni" from stories of Captain Kidd fail to cite any sources or demonstrate that Joseph had access to them. For more detail on this claim, see: Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd and the Comoro archipelago.

Detailed Analysis

Modern map of the Comoros Islands

The Comoro archipelago consists of the islands of Grande Comore (Great Comoro), Anjouan (also known as Johanna), Mohilla (Mohely), and Mayotte (Mayotta). They are located at the head of the Mozambique Channel off the coast of Africa. The current capitol, shown on modern maps, is the city of Moroni.

This claim, like many efforts to explain away the Book of Mormon, commits the logical fallacy of the Appeal to probability. This fallacy argues that because something is even remotely possible, it must be true.

Pointing out a possible relationship like Comoros = Cumorah and Moroni = Moroni is not sufficient.

When the facts are examined, even the possibility of Joseph seeing Comoros and Moroni recedes; the idea becomes unworkable. The following gazetteers from Joseph's era were consulted:

Title Relevant Contents
Mucullock's Universal Gazateer, 2 vols (1843-4)

2257 pages of double columned miniscule print, with no reference to Comoros Islands or Moroni.

Morris' Universal Gazateer (1821) 831 pages, no mention of Comoros or Moroni

Brookes Gazateer

  • 1794 edition


  • Comora on p. 400, no mention of Moroni
  • 1819 edition
  • Comora, no mention of Moroni
  • 1835 edition
  • Comoro on p. 214, no mention of Moroni
  • 1843 edition
  • Comoro, no mention of Moroni

There is no evidence that Joseph saw these maps, or any other, but if he had they would have provided little help.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that any source would have contained the name of "Moroni." That settlement did not become the capital city until 1876 (32 years after Joseph's death and 47 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon), when Sultan Sa'id Ali settled there. At that time it was only a small settlement. Even a century later, in 1958, its population was only 6500.

The name "Meroni" on the Comoros island of Anjouan

As previously noted, it is unlikely that any map of the Comoro Archiplego available to Joseph Smith would have contained the name of "Moroni." The capitol city of Moroni was unlikely to have been present on early maps of the Comoros Islands in the 1700's. However, the name "Meroni" actually did appear in a different location on one of the other Comoros Islands on maps dated to 1748, 1752 and 1755. The following 1748 map of the island of Anjouan (also known as Nzwani) has been noted by critics to contain the name "Meroni".[1]

Meroni and moroni on modern map.jpg

The following map of Anjouan, dated to 1752, also contains the name "Meroni."

1752 map of anjouan with meroni.jpg

It is unlikely that Joseph would have seen this, since the name "Comoro" on maps always appears to be associated with the main island "Grande Comore", while the settlement of "Meroni" on Anjoun is too small to appear on such maps showing all four islands. For example, the following 1749 maps of the Comoros clearly labels the main island as "Comore," but the scale of the island of Anjouan obscures the names of any settlements there. In order for Joseph to obtain the name "Meroni" from Anjouan, he would have been required to consult the Anjouan map directly make this connection, since it lists the name "Comore" at the top.

1749 map of comoros islands.jpg

Other theories on why the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" appear in the Book of Mormon

There is another speculation put forth non-Mormons regarding how Joseph Smith might have heard the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" that is not related to Captain Kidd. The assumption made on one website is that he "heard about these exotic places from stories of American whalers." [2] The website notes that "The Comoro islands were visited by a large number of American whaling ships beginning before the appearance of The Book of Mormon. Sailors aboard these ships, when they returned to the whaling ports of New England, told of their adventures in the western Indian Ocean and by the time The Book of Mormon first appeared in the 1820s, both Moroni and Comoro were words known to some Americans living in the eastern United States."[2] One would have to assume, however, that Joseph came into contact with "some Americans living in the eastern United States" who were familiar with the names. Such a connection is simply pure conjecture.

On the other hand, the same website also provides a useful background on the meaning of the names:

It should be first noted that the word, 'moroni', has a meaning. The word is from the group of languages spoken in the Comoro Islands and found in Swahili, as well. Translating into English, it means "at the place of fire." It is constructed of the root 'moro,' which means "fire" or "heat" and the locative '-ni,' which has the meaning "at the place of". Thus, constructed from the morphemes of the local languages ‘Moroni’ reflects the fact that it is located at the base of one of the world’s largest active volcanos. It should also be noted that the name, 'Moroni', is found on European maps as early as the middle of the 18th century and noted by travelers as the capital of a Sultan on the island of Ngazidja. The name, 'Comoro', also has a similar meaning in the local languages. It is composed of an old Swahili locative 'ko-' and the word 'moro' meaning "the place of fire." This name has been around since ancient times and can be found on Arabic maps published over a thousand years ago. [2]

This supports the idea that the names "Moroni" and "Comoro" are of authentic ancient origin.

The spelling of "Cumorah" as "Camorah" in the 1830 Book of Mormon

1830 Book of Mormon showing the spelling "Camorah"

The 1830 Book of Mormon uses the spelling "Camorah." Oliver Cowdery stated that this was a spelling error in the July 1835 issue of the Latter Day Saint's Messenger and Advocate. Oliver Cowdery states:

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.)

The spelling was corrected to "Cumorah" in the 1837 reprint of the Book of Mormon. This makes it consistent with other Nephite names with the suffix "-cum" (for example, Teancum). There are no Nephite names which contain the suffix "-cam."

Trivia

In an episode of the TV game show Jeopardy, host Alex Trebek gave the answer, "Pronounced one way, it is the capitol of the Comoros Islands; pronounced another way, it is the name of the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith." (The question, of course, was "What is Moroni?")

References

  • Wikipedia entry on Comoros off-site
  • Wikipedia entry on Moroni, Comoros off-site
  • Entry on "Comoros" in the CIA World Factbook off-site
  • Barbara Dubins, "Nineteenth-century Travel Literature on the Comoro Islands: A Bibliographical Essay", African Studies Bulletin 12. 2 (September 1969): 138-46. It can be found on JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/523156

For further information related to this topic


The Interpreter Foundation responds to these questions

Benjamin L. McGuire,"Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One", Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, (2013)


Additionally the capitol city Moroni has not yet been found on any early map showing the Comoro Islands. Grunder notes in his discussion of the first map that “the Encyclopædia Britannica records volcanic eruptions beginning in 1830 on the island of Great Comoro (Grande Comore) where Maroni, the capitol of this territory (not shown on the map discussed here or on other period maps which I have examined), is located (Encyclopædia Britannica eleventh [Page 58]ed., 6:794–95, ‘Comoro Islands’)” (2008, p. 63). More recently, Mike Reed located an eighteenth century map of Anjouan, one of the Comoro islands, with an indicated anchorage identified as Meroni. Although this is adjacent to an entirely different island than the one with the city Moroni, it does demonstrate that if all we are concerned with is identifying homonyms, eventually we will find what we are looking for.74


The interesting corollary is that while we find this rather small location indicated on this map, the present day capitol of Comoro, Moroni, has yet to be found on any maps contemporary with the publication of the Book of Mormon, and while this isn’t a guarantee that it won’t be found (it wouldn’t surprise me if it were), it does indicate that its importance was far less than it is today.

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For further information related to this topic



Notes


  1. Map of Anjouan [Nzwani], one of the Comoro Islands[Bellin, Jacques Nicolas, 1703-1772]. Carte de L'Isle D'Anjouan / Kaart van 'T Eiland Anjuan. par le Cap. Cornwal. [Paris?: Bellin?, 1748?] Call number: G 9212 .A5 P5 1748 .B45 off-site
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Martin and Harriet Ottenheimer, "COMORO ISLANDS" (website) off-site

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